Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Natives of the Underdark infused with its shadowy, secretive magic, Svirfneblin are the most mysterious of all gnomes.
These “deep gnomes” have spent generations far beneath the earth — eking out an existence in a nightmarish world of poisonous plants, cramped tunnels, and ravenous monsters.
Such hardships have made the Svirfneblin into a race of consummate survivors. The sheer number of things down in this subterranean hellscape that would happily make a meal of an unwary deep gnome have bred an attitude of guarded paranoia and wariness into the survivors.
They are characterized by their mottled gray skin and dour attitudes — much at odds with the boundless curiosity and optimism that is often thought to define their surface-dwelling cousins. Deep gnomes are experts at moving unseen through their underground homelands, evading detection by all but the sharpest of eyes. They are blessed with a mixture of natural camouflage, innate spellcasting, and learned skills.
The fact they have some of the most extensive darkvision in the game doesn’t hurt their chances of seeing a hungry hook horror coming before it notices them.
In this guide, we’re going to break down deep gnomes as a playable race, how they work in D&D 5e, and which classes they’re suited to playing as well as their appearance, cultural characteristics, and naming conventions — everything you need to get ready to bring a Svirfneblin character to your next campaign.
What Are Deep Gnomes in DnD 5e?
Deep gnomes (or Svirfneblin) are a subrace of gnomes that dwell in the Underdark. Like their surface-dwelling cousins, the Svirfneblin have a natural resistance to magic but are also uniquely adapted to life deep beneath the earth, using a mixture of camouflage, superior darkvision, and innate spellcasting to avoid detection.
Deep Gnome (Svirfneblin) Traits
As a deep gnome, you gain the following racial traits.
Creature Type. You are a humanoid. You also count as a gnome for all prerequisites and effects that require you to be a gnome, like racial feats or attuning to certain magic items.
Size. Your size is small.
Speed. Your walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as though it is bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. In darkness, you perceive colors only as shades of gray.
Gif of the Svirfneblin. Starting at 3rd level, you can innately cast the spell Disguise Self, and at 5th level, you also learn to cast the spell Nondetection without the need for a material component. You may cast each of these spells with this trait once per long rest, although you may use spell slots you otherwise have of the appropriate level to cast them as well. When you create your character, choose either Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma as your spellcasting ability for these spells.
Gnomish Magic Resistance. You have advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against spells.
Svirfneblin Camouflage. You can choose to make Dexterity (Stealth) checks with advantage a number of times per long rest equal to your proficiency bonus.
The deep gnome’s natural abilities make them perfectly suited to life in the Underdark, but these advantages easily translate over to the adventuring life as well.
While Gnomish Magic Resistance unfortunately doesn’t apply to all saving throws, spells and magical effects that force Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves are usually the kind of thing that target your agency and perception rather than just stinging you with some damage. Therefore, they’re probably the most useful in terms of making sure your character actually remains functional.
Darkvision is great for scouting at night or underground — especially if you pair it with something like the Gloom Stalker Ranger’s Umbral Sight (for an extra 30 ft. of darkvision) and a magical item like the Goggles of Night (for another 60 ft.). If you’re playing a character who likes to hit things from far away — like an Arcane Archer with the Sharpshooter feat, or a Warlock with Eldritch Spear — then the deep gnome’s upgraded darkvision is fantastic.
The 120 feet of darkvision is also great for making sure you see your enemies coming before they get the drop on you. This, alongside the rest of the deep gnome’s abilities, really emphasizes this race’s emphasis on evading detection.
Gnomish camouflage is a fantastic stealth tool, whether you want to ensure you slip away into the shadows or just counteract the disadvantage from heavy armor when you really, really need to pass a check. Obviously, the limited number of uses per long rest is a bit of a pain, but at least it ticks up alongside your proficiency bonus from 2 at level one to 6 by the late game.
Also, both of your innate spells are geared toward avoiding notice — although they both approach the issue of stealth somewhat laterally.
The caster uses illusion magic to disguise themselves (including their clothes, armor, weapons, and other belongings about their person) for up to an hour. They can appear 1 foot shorter or taller and can appear thin, fat, or in between — although they cannot change the caster’s basic body type or number of limbs, and the illusion does not stand up to physical inspection.
A creature trying to discern that the caster is disguised can make an Intelligence (Investigation) check against the caster’s Spell Save DC.
I’m a huge fan of this spell. Disguise Self is a hugely versatile effect that has as many applications as your imagination allows. From basic stuff like sneaking past guards to making yourself resemble a statue to avoid detection or a powerful monster to intimidate your enemies, there’s a whole lot you can do with this spell.
Also, a lot of innate 1st-level spells stop being useful as your character levels up, and although the chances you’ll encounter enemies with truesight and higher Intelligence scores increase as you progress through your campaign, the chances of this being negated still don’t go up all that drastically — especially given that your Spell Save DC is also going to probably increase.
For the spell’s duration, the caster hides a willing creature, a place, or an object no larger than 10 feet in any dimension from the effects of divination magic. The target cannot be targeted by any divination magic or perceived through magical scrying sensors.
Much like Disguise Self, I’m a big fan of the way that this spell approaches the concept of stealth from an unexpected direction.
Scrying admittedly isn’t often the sort of thing you need to deal with unless you’ve pissed off a Wizard, but the ability to block all divination magic means you’re also immune to spells like See Invisibility and Detect Magic, not to mention really weird stuff like fortune telling — although figuring out how this spell messes with someone’s ability to see the future is a level of whacky I don’t want to think too hard about right now.
Nondetection also isn’t the sort of spell that’s first on your wish list to pick up at higher levels. In fact, unless it becomes extremely obvious you need it or you’re playing a wizard with a spell list as long as a purple worm, it’s not the sort of thing you grab. Any innate spellcasting that encourages people to play around with the weirder nooks and crannies of a spell list is good in my book.
Which Classes Are Deep Gnomes Best Suited To?
Because of their emphasis on sneaky, stealthy abilities, the Svirfneblin somewhat obviously synergize the best with, uh, sneaky, stealthy classes.
Playing an in-your-face, tanky, melee-focused class like a Fighter or Barbarian is going to leave you spending a fair bit of time wondering why you picked this class in the first place. Obviously, the Gnomish Magic Resistance is going to be good with any class, but everything else is going to feel pretty pointless if your character class isn’t also geared toward moving around unseen.
However, if you do decide that you want to play a Deep Gnome Barbarian, that’s totally possible thanks to the way that characters generate their ability scores in Monsters of the Multiverse.
Creating a Deep Gnome
Using the new rules from Monsters of the Multiverse in addition to the racial traits detailed above, all characters using this method of generation get to either increase one ability score by +2 and another by +1 or increase three different scores by +1. You still can’t increase a starting ability score above 20.
This means that the days when certain classes and player races were almost completely incompatible are over, and although other racial traits can push you more in the direction of one class than another, there’s nothing stopping you from making any race/class combo work for you.
Even though you can make any combination of deep gnome and adventuring class work, there are a couple of options that really synergize well.
Bards see a lot of synergy between advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks and the class’s Expertise feature, not to mention two extra spells (which the Bard can cast using their own spell slots as well) on a class with a chronically small spell list is great.
Rangers are also a good shout, as Svirfneblin Camouflage helps you scout and explore while avoiding notice, and by combining Nondetection with something like Pass Without Trace, you functionally ensure that no one is ever going to find you.
But it’s probably the Rogue that gets the most out of a pairing with a deep gnome. Camouflage and expertise make you even more ridiculously good at being stealthy, and innate spellcasting like Disguise Self fits right in with the sort of infiltration work that Rogues love. Also, by combining the Rogue’s Evasion with Gnomish Magic Resistance, you’re fabulously resilient to just about all sorts of saving throw-forcing effects.
Culturally, deep gnomes are very different from other offshoots of gnomish society. Whereas rock and forest gnomes are famous for their curiosity, inventiveness, and largely congenial dispositions, Svirfneblin are a grim and cautious lot.
The Underdark is a place where basically every monster is out to make a meal of you. Then, if you survive that, the drow, duergar, or mind flayers will probably enslave you and work you to death building a giant idol to a spider goddess or something equally upsetting.
The point is that the Underdark has no chill. As a result, deep gnomes need to be exceedingly careful if they want to live into their 5th century as many gnomes can (but we can imagine that few Svirfneblin do).
Deep gnomes, though sullen, are hard working — toiling tirelessly to carve out elaborate hidden cities from the living rock. Their warrens — like the city of Blingdenstone found in the adventure Out of the Abyss — are dramatically larger than those built by the rock and forest gnomes above, although gemstones are a Svirfneblin’s medium of choice when crafting works of art.
All gnomes have a deep love for names and collect them just as readily as they mine gems and precious metals from the earth. Most have half a dozen or so, and older gnomes can take minutes to formally introduce themselves.
Gnomes receive names from their mother, father, clan elder, aunts, and uncles as a way of tying them to their clan, family, and community — in addition to a wealth of nicknames given to them by their friends and comrades. Usually, these names are based on the names of a gnome’s ancestors or distant relatives, though this isn’t always the case.
When dealing with humans and others who are “stuffy” about names, a gnome learns to use no more than three names: a personal name, a clan name, and a nickname, choosing the one in each category that’s the most fun to say.
Masculine Names: Alston, Alvyn, Boddynock, Brocc, Burgell, Dimble, Eldon, Erky, Fonkin, Frug, Gerbo, Gimble, Glim, Jebeddo, Kellen, Namfoodle, Orryn, Roondar, Seebo, Sindri, Warryn, Wrenn, Zook
Feminine Names: Bimpnottin, Breena, Caramip, Carlin, Donella, Duvamil, Ella, Ellyjobell, Ellywick, Lilli, Loopmottin, Lorilla, Mardnab, Nissa, Nyx, Oda, Orla, Roywyn, Shamil, Tana, Waywocket, Zanna
Clan Names: Beren, Daergel, Folkor, Garrick, Nackle, Murnig, Ningel, Raulnor, Scheppen, Timbers, Turen
Nicknames: Aleslosh, Ashhearth, Badger, Cloak, Doublelock, Filchbatter, Fnipper, Ku, Nim, Oneshoe, Pock, Sparklegem, Stumbleduck
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.